Delegates Give Unanimous Approval to Proposed State Contract

Members of the State Delegate Assembly rise to their feet for a standing ovation after passing the proposed contract unanimously.
Members of the State Delegate Assembly rise to their feet for a standing ovation after passing the proposed contract unanimously.

The AFSCME Council 5 State Delegate Assembly voted unanimously Friday to recommend approval of the proposed state contract. There was high enthusiasm as the tentative agreement was explained to delegates, with many delegates clapping and even cheering about various points of the contract.

The TA for state employees includes a 2 percent raise this year, 2.25 percent next year, and steps both years. Employees with annual step increases could see their pay go up by 9.25 percent by the end of the two-year deal. The TA not only holds the line on health insurance cost increases, it improves benefits.

Now members will vote from Aug. 7-11 at polling places across the state. Members can find their polling place and date here.

Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide told delegates it’s essential that members vote in big numbers to pressure the Legislature to approve the contract.

“We have a really good contract, but the one thing that can stop this is the Minnesota Legislature and the Subcommittee on Employee Relations,” Seide says. “We need a big turnout. We’re sending a message to legislators that we are the state employees of the state of Minnesota. We do Minnesota’s Work. This state doesn’t operate without us. We demand they do their job!”

The TA improves improved dental benefits, dramatically lowers the cost of diabetes treatment and guarantees six weeks of paid parental leave in the contract. It also boosts injured-on-duty pay from 240 hours to 300 hours, and allows open enrollment for short-term disability.

Local 4001 member Susan Cation, who works at St. Cloud Technical Community College in maintenance, says the pay raise will help.

“Families are struggling,” Cation says. “We’re lucky we’re part of a strong union. There’s a lot of others who don’t have the same benefits we do.”

The proposed contract covers 15,504 AFSCME workers in Unit 2 (craft and maintenance), Unit 3 (service), Unit 4 (health care), Unit 6 (clerical) and Unit 7 (technical) of the executive branch.  The health insurance covers 18,337 AFSCME workers, including Units 8 (corrections) and 25 (radio communications).

When Local 221 (MnDOT) Treasurer Martha Miller heard details of the contract, she says she jumped for joy.
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“It’s just awesome,” Miller says. “When I heard the 2 and 2.25 percent raises, oh my God! We’re trying to move forward, and just to be able to live and budget within your means and do a little more as a family, this will help you do that.”

Miller says she was also grateful there were no increases in the cost of health care, and improved dental benefits. She says she needs a crown and now can afford to get one.

Theresa St. Aoro says the changes in health care and in short-term disability will allow her to afford to take time off for knee joint replacement surgery and to get a dental implant.

“I think it’s amazing, all the health care and short-term disability leaps we’ve taken with this contract,” says St. Aoro, who’s chief steward of Local 2829 and a Council 5 Executive Board member. Before, she says, the way short-term disability worked, she was stuck at the same amount she would have gotten back when she was hired in 1999.

“If I was out, it wasn’t anything I could live on,” she says. “Disability was like $400 a month. That would pay for my car insurance and my phone, it didn’t even pay rent. This change is important to me.”

Safe staffing has been a huge issue for members who work in corrections, mental health treatment and other areas. Many have experienced severe injuries on the job. This TA boosts injured-on-duty pay from 240 hours to 300 hours.

Eric Hesse, a vice president with Local 404, says workers’ compensation covers two-thirds of your wages when you get hurt, and injured-on-duty pay covers the rest. But what happens when someone suffers a serious injury and is out for months, and that money stops coming?

“I don’t think anybody can really afford to live and support your family with only two-thirds of your wages,” Hesse says. “We had a worker who broke his back when he got rammed into a steel table (at St. Peter Security Hospital). He had to have some vertebrae fused together. He was basically bedridden. His wife had to take unpaid leave from her job. They had two small children. They almost lost their house.

“Nobody should ever have to go through financial ruin or have trouble supporting their family or lose their house just because they were doing their job,” he says.

Hesse and Local 404 president Tim Headlee say increasing the number of hours of injured-on-duty pay will help lift that burden.

“The extended time means more time off for workers with serious injuries,” Headlee says. “They can actually, truly take the time to focus on healing their injuries.”

Near the end of the meeting Friday, delegates stood with their heads bowed in a moment of silence, led by MnDOT worker Mike Schmidt, to honor those who lost their lives in the 35W bridge collapse 10 years ago.

Delegates stand for a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives in the 35W bridge collapse ten years ago. MnDOT worker and Local 221 member Mike Schmidt, in suspenders, led the moment.
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Members also gave standing ovations to Eliot Seide and field director Jo Pels, who are retiring this year.

(Center) Christina St. Germaine presents a sign to field director Jo Pels (left) and executive director Eliot Seide, who are retiring this year.
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Voting on the state contract is Aug. 7 to 11. Find contract highlights here. State workers can find their polling place and date here.